If this three-game road trip is a litmus test, the Dolphins have failed the first question.
San Francisco didn’t just beat the Dolphins, 33-17. He beat the Dolphins with a third-string quarterback and sent him into a week of searching for answers.
Here are 10 Sunday thoughts:
1. Player of the Match: Brock Purdy. You could hand it to San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa with his three sacks, but Purdy was an unknown rookie pushed into a big game when San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was injured. This is a statement on how the Dolphins defense played. Who had heard of Purdy before Sunday? Perhaps as Mr. Irrelevant as the last player drafted? But San Francisco’s third-string quarterback and the 262nd draft pick played well enough for the win. He hasn’t been bothered at all by a Dolphins defense that allows about twice as many points on the road as they do at home. How it happened on Sunday was simple: They couldn’t get Purdy’s offense off the field. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The 49ers offense had the ball 40 minutes and 34 seconds — and had 19 third attempts (converting eight). Meanwhile …
2. Tua Tagovailoa looked like 2021 Tua. He wasn’t the confident quarterback for much of this year. He missed open receivers. It looked uncomfortable in the pocket. You have to go back to the Tennessee game late last year to see him this far off his game. He threw back-to-back interceptions and, if one happened when Jeff Harris slipped on a road, the another was a bad throw. It happens, especially against a top-notch defense. The Dolphins had beaten bottom-tier defenses during their five-game winning streak — just as they beat understaffed teams for much of their seven-game winning streak last season. To win a big game like Sunday, they needed several things, but playing better at quarterback is the first.
3. AFC Playoff Race:
1. Buffalo (9-3 and atop the AFC East).
2. Kansas City (9-3, atop AFC West).
3. Baltimore (8-4, atop AFC Central).
4. Tennessee (7-5, atop the AFC South).
5. Cincinnati (8-4, No. 1 Wild Card)
6. Miami (8-4, Wild Card No. 2).
7. New York Jets (7-4, Wild Card No. 3).
Bottom line: The Dolphin game at Buffalo on Dec. 18 takes on added importance in its hopes for the AFC East title. It always looked like they needed this game. It became a must win if they want the division title, an eventual bye and playoff advantage at home.
4. Don’t say the absence of left tackle Terron Armstead cannot be overcome. When the Dolphins signed him last offseason, they had to plan who would move in for him when he got injured. Armstead hasn’t played a full season in a 10-year career and has played about half the game (18) in the past two years. So, if you are going to sign such a health problem with a lot of money, you better have a backup plan. Beyond that, teams lose left tackles all the time. The Bills played an injured left tackle in their win over New England on Thursday. The Jets, Titans and Chargers lost left tackles early in the season. Armstead is an anchor of this line. The real problem on Sunday was…
5. Nick Bosa is playing at Defensive Player of the Year level. He had three sacks on Sunday and five quarterback hits on Sunday. Two sacks were in the first half and the third forced a fumble that was returned for a 49-inch touchdown to make it the final, 33-17. The NFL, for all its nuances, is a game of confrontations. Bosa worked against both Dolphins tackles, Brandon Shell and Greg Little. A sack, however, came when fullback Alec Ingold and then running back Raheem Mostert were the two blockers on him. Not a good pattern against a dominant passer. Bosa now has 14.5 sacks to lead the league. Regarding Sunday, his teammate Azeez Al-Shaair “It’s just Bosa,” said Al-Shaair. “He changes the game all the time. It was banging on all cylinders today.
6. The Big Brass Ones award goes to Mike McDaniel. Fourth-and-one to Dolphins 19. Ten minutes to go. San Francisco leads 23-17. And there he goes? Full disclosure: Didn’t look like a smart call against the league’s No. 1 defense. But something more seemed at work here overall. He was a coach who made a statement of confidence in Tua Tagovailoa more than anything. Tagovailoa struggled for a long time this game and here is McDaniel doing what he’s done in other ways since joining – confirming his full faith in the quarterback. Tagovailoa completed a first pass to Hill to give the Dolphins some temporary hope on the day.
7. How does Tyreek Hill open up further? He continues to play as the most valuable player on this team. He had nine catches for 146 yards – about half of receiving years (295). With Jaylen Waddle leaving the game, it made Hill’s game all the more important. It wasn’t just the numbers either. Trailing 23-10, he caught a 14-yard pass for a first down, then the 45-yard touchdown in which he got so open behind the 49ers defense. On the fourth down play, McDaniel called, Hill caught the first down pass. He’s been the Dolphins’ best player every game and he was again on Sunday.
8. Quote of the day: Deebo Samuel, when asked about former teammate Rhaemm Mostert’s comments about the Dolphins having better talent, said: “I thought they had the best talent…oh, my bad.”
9. Quick shots:
* Zack Sieler continues to stand out under the radar this season.
* Linebacker Duke Riley on Christian McCaffrey was not a winning proposition as the 49ers showed early on.
* This is Cincinnati. It has beaten Tennessee and Kansas City in successive weeks and could be the best team in the AFC by the end of the month.
10. Dolphins at Chargers. The three-game road trip moves to Los Angeles — and the Chargers are proving that not all teams on this stretch are equal. Their defense entered Sunday ranked 28th in points allowed (26 per game). And their offence? Depends on their state of health. He ranks 13th but Justin Herbert lost Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater for the year and was without the following players on Sunday: center Corey Linsley (concussion protocol), right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) , receivers Mike Williams (ankle) against the Los Angeles Raiders on Sunday. Keenan Allen played his fifth game of the year. Who plays next Sunday for both teams will help determine what might happen.